If you’re a music lover, you’ve probably heard of turntables. But what exactly are they, and how do they work?
In this article, we’ll explore the basics of turntables and their role in music. From the rotating platter to the stylus and cartridge, we’ll break down the components that make up a turntable and explain how they work together to produce sound.
We’ll also touch on the history of turntables in music, from their early use as experimental instruments to their modern-day popularity among audiophiles.
So whether you’re a seasoned vinyl collector or just curious about the world of turntables, read on to learn more about this iconic piece of music technology.
What Is A Turntable In Music
A turntable is a device used for playing sound recordings, specifically vinyl phonograph records. It consists of a rotating platter for the record and an arm that holds a cartridge and needle, also known as a stylus. The stylus is a diamond chip attached to a metal cantilever that moves inside the cartridge as it bounces along the sound wave undulations “carved” in the V-shaped grooves of the vinyl.
In its simplest form, a turntable is just one component of a record player. However, it can also be purchased as a standalone unit without built-in speakers or an amplifier. In this case, external components such as speakers and amplifiers must be connected to the turntable using RCA cables.
The turntable itself includes the motor and platter, as well as the stylus, cartridge, and tone-arm. It may also have a pre-amplifier, which allows it to be connected to an external component without a dedicated phono input.
To use a turntable, the components must be set up and connected properly. The stylus runs in the grooves of the record and transmits vibrations through wires in the tone arm to the cartridge. The cartridge takes that information and transmits it to the pre-amp, which turns it into sound via an external amp and speaker.
The Basics Of Turntables: Components And Functionality
A turntable consists of several key components that work together to produce sound from a vinyl record. These components include the plinth, tonearm, cartridge, stylus, platter, and controls.
The plinth is the base of the turntable and serves as a foundation for the other components. It is typically made of wood or metal and may have vibration-dampening features to minimize distortion.
The tonearm is a long, thin arm that holds the cartridge and stylus. It pivots from the edge of the record towards the center and must be rigid and lightweight to accurately track the grooves in the vinyl.
The cartridge is a small device that holds the stylus and converts the vibrations from the stylus into an electrical signal. There are two main types of cartridges: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC).
The stylus, also known as a needle, is a tiny diamond chip attached to a metal cantilever that moves inside the cartridge as it bounces along the sound wave undulations “carved” in the V-shaped grooves of the vinyl. The shape and size of the stylus can affect the sound quality and longevity of both the stylus and the record.
The platter is a circular disc that holds the record and rotates at a constant speed. It must be heavy and well-balanced to minimize vibration and ensure accurate playback.
Finally, controls such as on/off switches, speed selectors, and tonearm height adjustments allow for customization of the playback experience.
From Experimental Instrument To Audiophile Favorite: A Brief History Of Turntables
The history of turntables dates back to the origins of recorded sound. In 1857, French inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville developed the ‘phonautograph’ system, which could visualize sound waves by etching them onto sheets of paper. However, it could not play them back.
The honor of inventing a process that could both record and playback sound went almost simultaneously to two men, the French inventor and poet, Charles Cros and the American inventor, Thomas Edison. Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877 was a breakthrough in technology. The concept initially comprised of a cylinder wrapped in tin foil that could be turned by a hand crank. When sound entered the mouthpiece, the diaphragm and attached needle would vibrate, making indentations in the foil. Edison’s breakthrough came while attempting to record telephone calls by attaching a diaphragm and needle to the receiver.
Both Cros and Edison had cracked the playback process of recorded sound, just weeks apart. The difference is, Edison had built a working model, and Cros had not. The world went mad for Edison’s phonograph, and his prototype was quickly turned into a machine that well-off Americans could purchase for home entertainment.
In France, Charles Crois is celebrated as the inventor of sound reproduction. However, it was Emile Berliner who initiated the transition from phonograph cylinders to flat discs with a spiral groove running from the periphery to near the center, coining the term gramophone for disc record players.
Later improvements through the years included modifications to the turntable and its drive system, the stylus or needle, pickup system, and the sound and equalization systems. The disc phonograph record was the dominant commercial audio recording format throughout most of the 20th century.
In the 1960s, alternatives such as 8-track cartridges and cassette tapes were introduced. In the 1980s, phonograph use declined sharply due to the popularity of cassettes and CDs. However, records are still a favorite format for some audiophiles, DJs, collectors, and turntablists (particularly in hip hop and electronic dance music), and have undergone a revival since the 2000s. Today’s turntables are often equipped with modern features such as USB connectivity for digital conversion and Bluetooth connectivity for wireless streaming.
The Importance Of Turntables In Music Production And DJing
Turntables have played a significant role in the history of music production and DJing. They were originally designed for playing vinyl records, but have since evolved to become an essential tool for DJs and music producers. Turntables allow DJs to manipulate the speed and pitch of music, as well as blend tracks together to create seamless transitions. They also allow for unique sound effects like scratching and mixing.
In music production, turntables are often used to sample and manipulate existing music. Producers can scratch and mix records to create new sounds, or use the turntable as an instrument to create percussion or atmospheric effects. Turntables also offer a tactile experience that is not possible with digital software, allowing producers to experiment and create unique sounds.
In DJing, turntables are essential for creating a live performance. DJs use turntables to select and play records, adjust the speed and pitch of music, and blend tracks together to create a seamless mix. They can also use techniques like scratching and mixing to create unique sound effects that are impossible with digital software.
The importance of turntables in music production and DJing lies in their ability to offer a unique and tactile experience. They allow for creative experimentation and manipulation of existing sounds, as well as the creation of new sounds. The resurgence of vinyl records in recent years has also increased the popularity of turntables, as more listeners choose this medium over digital options. Overall, turntables continue to play an important role in the world of music production and DJing.
Understanding The Different Types Of Turntables And Their Features
There are three main types of turntables available today: belt-driven, direct drive, and USB-enabled. Each type offers a different set of features and benefits, so it’s important to consider your specific needs before making a purchase.
Belt-driven turntables are the classic type of record players and feature a drive belt that allows the platter to spin. This type of turntable is relatively easy to maintain, as the belt can be replaced as needed. They are also more affordable than other types, making them a great option for beginner DJs. However, they are not as fast or accurate as direct-drive turntables and can be less reliable in the long run.
Direct-drive turntables offer greater speed and accuracy than belt-driven models and are the standard in professional DJ setups. The motor is directly connected to the platter, allowing for more precise control. They are also more durable and less prone to wear and tear but can be more expensive than belt-driven models.
Finally, USB-enabled turntables are the most modern type and feature a USB port for easy digital recording. This allows DJs to transfer their music from vinyl to a computer or other digital device with ease. USB-enabled turntables are generally more expensive than belt-driven or direct-drive models but can be a valuable tool for DJs who need to digitize their music quickly and easily.
When choosing a turntable, it’s important to consider your specific needs and budget. Different types offer different features and benefits, so it’s important to do your research and choose the model that’s best suited for your needs. Additionally, turntable cartridges are also an important factor to consider, as they are responsible for translating the vibrations from the stylus into electrical signals that can be amplified by your system. Overall, investing in a high-quality turntable can greatly enhance your listening experience and help you get the most out of your vinyl collection.
Maintaining And Caring For Your Turntable: Tips And Tricks
To ensure that your turntable is in optimal condition, it is important to maintain and care for it regularly. Here are some tips and tricks to keep your turntable in tip-top shape:
1. Placement and Suspension: It is important to place your turntable on a stable platform to avoid vibrations that can interfere with the signal and cause distorted sounds. Consider investing in a support for your turntable to keep it away from any source of vibration.
2. Stylus Maintenance: Clean your stylus regularly with a carbon fiber brush to prevent dirt and deposits from causing skipping and distortion. You can also use fluids or cleaners to keep the stylus in good condition. It is recommended to change the stylus after every 3,000 hours of use to maintain good sound quality.
3. Calibration and Alignment: Correctly calibrate the tracking force, anti-skate, and height settings to avoid increased record wear and skipping needles. Proper alignment is also important as it can affect the way your stylus sits inside the record grooves.
4. Belt Replacement: If you own a belt drive turntable, replace the belt once every few years or when you notice it slipping lower than usual on its pulley. A slipping belt can cause damage to your records and affect sound quality.
5. Turntable Maintenance: Regular maintenance of all parts of your turntable will ensure the best quality sound and long cartridge life. Keep your device clean and tuned, and make sure that the anti-skate counterweight is aligned correctly.
In addition to these tips, taking care of your records properly can also help prolong the life of your turntable. Store them vertically in a cool, dry area away from any source of heat or moisture, and handle them by the outer edge and label to avoid contact with the playing surface.
By following these tips and tricks, you can enjoy the warm sound of vinyl for years to come.